Atlantic City casino workers support smoking ban bill

Tammy Brady started her career as a casino dealer in Atlantic City at the age of 18. Now she is 55 years old, she has stage 2 breast cancer.

“While I’m not sure we’ll ever know the exact cause of my illness, I can’t help but wonder if it would have happened if the casinos hadn’t forced me to work in second-hand smoke,” said Brady, who works at Borgata casino.

Holly Diebler, a craps dealer at the Tropicana, is undergoing chemotherapy for throat cancer.

“I don’t even know how long I have to live,” he said. “I love my job; I don’t want to leave it. But all my oncologists told me it was a life-and-death choice.

They were among dozens of casino employees who testified Thursday before two state Assembly committees in favor of a bill that would ban smoking at nine Atlantic City casinos.

No vote was taken on the bill, as was the case at a similar hearing on February 13. Governor Phil Murphy has promised to sign the bill if it passes the Legislature, but so far, leaders of the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate have not allowing the bill to proceed and voting on.

The bill would close a loophole in the state’s 2006 indoor smoking law. The measure was written specifically to exempt casinos from the indoor smoking ban. Currently, smoking is allowed on 25% of Atlantic City’s casino floors.

“I don’t want to take away your right to kill yourself by smoking,” said Assemblyman Don Guardian, former mayor of Atlantic City. “I want to take away your right to kill others by smoking in a casino.”

The casino industry opposes the smoking ban, saying it will lose customers and revenue if smoking is banned while casinos in neighboring states allow it.

But Andrew Klebenow of Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming, said many casinos that have stopped smoking are thriving financially, including casinos near Washington, DC, and Boston, and in Maryland.

Business groups opposed a ban, and Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, predicted that the smoking ban would cost the industry 10% of its revenue and cause the closure of at least one casino.

“In the south, there are no other jobs,” he said. “It’s like Hooterville. No one is for cancer. The issue is should we close a casino or not? “

The Casino Association of New Jersey said the true impact of a smoking ban would be closer to 20 to 25% of lost casino revenue.

“Atlantic City’s casino industry is still in a phase of rebuilding and recovering from where it started during the pandemic,” its statement read. “Atlantic City visitation is near a 20-year low, while gas prices and tolls are on the rise. Adding a smoking ban could have a devastating impact on the community and state in this difficult economy.”

Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper at Caesars, said she fears being fired if smoking is banned and business declines.

“I am not against smoking; I am against losing my job,” he said.

But many casino workers feel differently.

Every time Robin Vitulle clocks in at his job as a Hard Rock salesman, he has the same thought: “Is this the day I inhale the cloud of smoke that gave me cancer? Or is it too late?”

According to the vendors, their employers forbade them from waving smoke.

“They say it’s going to embarrass the customer,” said Janice Green, 62, a craps dealer at the Tropicana. “I thought, ‘You mean the customer who killed me?'”

If the smoking ban is one of the most controversial issues not only in Atlantic City, but in casinos in other states where workers have expressed concern about secondhand smoke. They launched similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The issue is one of the most divisive in Atlantic City, where although casino revenue matched an all-time high of $5.2 billion last year, only half that amount was won from personal gamblers. The other half is won online and must be shared with third parties including tech platforms and sports books.

Only three of the nine casinos — Borgata, Ocean and Resorts — exceeded their pre-pandemic revenue levels in terms of money won from personal gamblers last year.

Support for a smoking ban is widespread among New Jersey lawmakers, who have bipartisan majorities in both chambers.

The bill must be voted on by the Senate and Assembly committees, then voted on by the full membership of those legislative bodies before going to the governor. Those hearings and votes have not yet been scheduled.

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